MORAGA -- From the 16th Annual California Independent Film Festival's poignant, opening night comedy/drama, "Le Week-End" on Nov. 7, to the football-lottery-unleashed "Jackpot" closing four days later, this year's fare is sweet.

The festival, home for the past four years at Moraga's New Rheem Theatre, will again present international- and Bay Area-produced films. Meet-the-filmmakers panels, local dignitaries and celebrity appearances, members-only special events, a carefully curated kids' series, and the ever-popular Iron Filmmaker Contest lend spice to the cinematic feast.

The festival continues to gain community support, as well, from local sponsors like Shelby's Restaurant and Whole Foods Market. Libations from Livermore's Concannon Vineyard, Concord's Ale Industries, and Peet's Coffee & Tea flow freely at (ticketed) receptions. Media outlets, real estate brokers, retailers, private schools and the Murdy Foundation, a nonprofit established by Moraga Mayor Dave Trotter's mother, contribute to the locally-supported potluck.

"We need to keep the Rheem Theater alive and growing," said Trotter, at a Monday news conference announcing festival highlights. "I'm thrilled to have convinced the foundation to support our efforts."


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CAIFF President and Founder Derek Zemrak accepted a $10,000 check, presented by executives from Wells Fargo. Steve Hitchcock, a CAIFF board member and Wells Fargo (Concord) senior vice president, joined Zemrak in presenting special features of the festival. segments of it to be held at theater locations in both Moraga and Orinda.

"Film festivals are stepping stones for up-and-coming filmmakers," Zemrak said. "The director of 'Prisoners' (Denis Villeneuve), now playing in theaters, had a short film in CAIFF in 2009."

International film festivals are also opportunities to see the commonalities and contrasts between world cultures. Not only do the selected films come from all over the world, the CAIFF expands its global reach through an ongoing "sister" relationship with Japan's Sapporo Shorts Fest. The Sapporo Shorts program will run at the Orinda Theatre on Nov. 8, and at the Rheem the next day.

The CAIFF, at age 16, has passed the 10-year marker Zemrak said successful festivals experience. "Filmmakers begin to think, 'Hmmm, will I get in? They're getting pretty big.' " We've had six films screened here that went on to the Oscars. We get less submissions now, but the quality is better."

The festival's four judges screened the entries according to 12 standards, and selected 32 films. Hamilton was most excited about the shorts, split this year into four categories according to themes -- All in the Family, They Work Hard For the Money, That's What Friends are For and Celebrity Shorts.

The annual Slate Awards, given in 13 categories, will be announced on opening night. Zemrak marked the change (the presentation was previously held at the end of the festival) saying, "This way, people will be able to plan and not miss an award-winning film."

There's also plenty of hometown love, with a Bay Area Filmmaker's Showcase (Nov. 10) and the 24-hour Iron Filmmaker Competition (Nov. 9). For the latter, filmmakers who don't care for shut-eye grab a theme and the must-have dialogue and prop (proving they shot the film within the time frame). They write, shoot, edit and deliver their films the next day. It starts Oct. 26 and already, Zemrak said, 15 of the 30 available entry slots had been filled. All completed films are screened and an audience winner announced at the event. Zemrak had two words on the subject: "Wild fun."

In keeping with the gustatory theme, a "Retro College Night" (Nov. 9) will include the movie "American Pie," to celebrate a shared anniversary (1999, when CAIFF was born and the film was a box office hit). A celebrity appearance by the actor who played Kevin, Thomas Ian Nicholas, will precede the 10 p.m. screening. Nicholas will also shoot the breeze before a 20th anniversary screening of "Rookie of the Year" during the Sunday morning Kids Program (Nov. 10).

The "bullying" theme is prominent this year, with a "Bullying in Schools" program featuring a music video, a short and the award-winning 2012 documentary "Bully." A conversation with Bruce Burns, Moraga School Superintendent and Heidi Hoehn Felt, Joaquin Moraga Middle School counselor, will follow the Sunday afternoon screening (Nov. 10).

If the promise of fine films and "wild fun" are not enough for the most devoted film lovers, there are parties. Opening, closing, private, impromptu parties (at area restaurants, local merchants hope) and, this year, at CAIFF Lounges in both Orinda and Moraga, free, exclusive gatherings for those who buy select CAIFF memberships.

Visit the website for complete details and to purchase tickets at http://caiff.org.

16th annual California Independent Film Festival
When: Nov. 7-10
Where: New Rheem Theatre, 350 Park St., Moraga; Orinda Theatre, 4 Orinda Theatre Square, Orinda
More information: http://caiff.org/#3